Windows Update not only automatically updates the Windows 10 operating system, it also automatically updates the hardware drivers. This has caused many bugs, but Microsoft is making improvements and making some of these driver updates optional.
How Windows 10 updated your drivers
Much has been written about automatic updates for the Windows 10 operating system, but hardware drivers are often overlooked. Device manufacturers can download new versions of their drivers to Windows Update and Windows 10 automatically installs them when available.
Hardware drivers can contain serious security issues or bugs that cause severe operating system instability. Most people don’t update their hardware drivers manually and most PC manufacturers have terrible driver update utilities. This is why Windows provides hardware drivers and their updates via Windows Update.
It also allows you to install Windows 10 on a new PC without looking for most hardware drivers – Windows will automatically find and install the correct drivers.
Bugs, Bugs, Bugs
Unfortunately, over and over again, this automatic update process has led to bugs. Here are some examples. The following drivers were all installed automatically by Windows Update, causing a sudden hardware failure for no apparent reason:
In March 2017, Microsoft released a device driver broken MTP protocol used by Android phones, media players and other portable devices. They wouldn’t appear in File Explorer until you complete a 13-step process in Device Manager to repair the damage.
In October 2018, Microsoft released an Intel audio driver update that interrupted audio playback on some systems. Microsoft has said that the audio driver update has been “incorrectly sent to devices”.
A month later, Microsoft released an Intel graphics driver update that broke audio playback on other systems. Microsoft has said that Intel has released the wrong versions of its display drivers for PC manufacturers.
In February 2016, chipmaker FTDI used Windows Update to push an update that counterfeit chips identified and disabled on the model of its design. Of course, these were counterfeits, but FTDI used Windows Update’s automatic driver updates to break otherwise functional hardware that some people had bought. It was the second time that FTDI had used Windows Update to attack counterfeits. In 2014 FTDI used Windows Update to send a driver that “masonry”Counterfeit material, making it non-functional.
For the record, we have heard of many other cases of automatic driver updates wreaking havoc on well-functioning systems. These are just a few examples that we remember.
It would be nice if these updates received better tests and if some of them were optional. This is exactly what Microsoft is doing with some recent changes.
Prepare for optional driver updates
Microsoft now allows driver manufacturers to mark certain driver updates as “Manual” rather than “Automatic” when they are downloaded to Windows Update. This new option has been made available to manufacturers February 19, 2020.
Starting with Windows 10 2004 update coming soon, also known as 20H1 and expected in the spring of 2020, these drivers will be available behind a new “Show optional updates” link on the Windows Update Settings screen.
This screen will show you optional driver updates for your PC hardware. It says, “If you have a specific problem, one of these drivers can help. Otherwise, automatic updates will keep your drivers up to date. In other words, Microsoft encourages most people not to bother with these updates.
Important driver updates with security fixes and fixes for other serious bugs will always be marked “automatic” and will be automatically installed by Windows Update.
All automatic driver updates will have a slow deployment
Microsoft’s ad indicates that all of its partners will now be able to mark hardware driver updates as “automatic.” At first this sounds a bit questionable – do we really need more automatic hardware driver updates?
However, it looks like Microsoft is about to do a lot more testing on these drivers. When a new driver version is marked as “automatic”, it will be slowly deployed on Windows 10 PCs with “limitation”, as will major updates for Windows 10. At first, only a small number of users of PCs receive the update. Microsoft can automatically detect problems and suspend deployment. Windows Update will not only automatically offer the driver update to all PCs.
Kevin Tremblay from Microsoft Explain how this should make driver updates less buggy in a comment on the Microsoft Tech community:
All pilots published as automatic are subject to piloting and progressive deployment. During these periods, we examine telemetry regarding pilot performance and its effects on the overall health of the system. We detect a lot of driver issues this way before they reach the size of the Windows user base. From an end-user perspective, we think this will translate into better quality drivers (stable, efficient) and better ability to stay up to date.
It is not known exactly how many hardware pilots were going through this progressive process before the change in February 2020. However, it was certainly not all. An article published in 2019 on the Microsoft Hardware Dev Center portal for hardware manufacturers says, “Ultimately, all drivers subject to Windows Update will go through gradual deployment.” This suggests that some driver updates were sent immediately to all applicable devices without the gradual deployment process.
Microsoft is fighting Windows 10 bugs
Microsoft is still struggling with bugs. Just look at the recent bug in a security update which is causing people’s files to disappear.
Overall, however, Microsoft has made Windows 10 updates more stable. Windows 10 November 2019 update was the best yetand Microsoft is currently granting the next update in 2004 a long bug testing period.
Driver updates will not become bug-free overnight, but requiring driver updates to go through the progressive testing process is a reasonable step that should make things better.